I grew up in the country, 15 mins out of town, 3 miles off the main road, down a dirt driveway lined with pine trees & a dried up creek bed. I spent my childhood climbing trees, running barefoot through the gravel all summer long & playing(read:50% play, 50% fighting) with my big sister while we waited for our parents to get home from work. It was a happy childhood full of games, laughter, boundaries & moments I will treasure until my dying day. Our parents taught us to eat well, play hard, love hard, work hard, drink water, love our home-grown veggies, to love to read, & to take care of each other…even when we didn’t get along. And you know what, that’s what we did!
I remember one particular summer when we were old enough to play cards & were not really interested in climbing trees anymore. We spent nearly every day playing the card game “speed”. We completely destroyed at LEAST 2 decks of cards that summer & I’m sure there were very few people who could beat our fast paced play. It was fun! I sometimes wonder how we didn’t get bored, but we didn’t! We just.kept.playing. Thinking of that Summer makes me smile…deep.
My sister. My hero. Brandie.
My sister was patient with me. She loved me & I always knew that but I was troubled for some reason. I was the kid who shot attitude at my parents every chance I had. I was the child who got good at lying because I could get away with hiding my pain, trouble, & mistakes. I wasn’t scared. I was ashamed & I didn’t know how to change that. I was the child that got spanked & gave that “is that all ya got, mom?” kind of look. (When I look at that paragraph I wonder how my parents let me live beyond 12????) But you know what, I always knew I was loved & both my parents & my sister made sure I heard it at every turn.
As adults, my sister & I had our differences. We had seasons when our relationship was strained & challenging. We also had seasons when we spent all.day. solving the problems of the world. There was a season when I was THRILLED to live across the driveway in the same apartment complex as her & my brother-in-law. It was a season of finding excuses to eat meals together, go on walks, go shopping, watch movies, & talk & giggle into the wee hours like we did as children. Thinking of that season makes me smile….deep.
When I moved to Japan for a couple of years, she & my mom came to visit me. We traveled the country together. Japan captured our hearts at a young age & we were changed forever. We laughed as the Japanese made silly comments about the “3 foreigners who must be 3 sisters”…we even laughed out loud a few times & made sure they knew we understood Japanese before they said something they might regret! We ate amazing food & saw as much of the country as we could in 2 weeks. Our feet were sore, our hearts were full & I was thankful to have shared my life so far from home with the 2 women who had known me since my first breath. Thinking of that season makes me thankful….deeply thankful.
When I came home from Japan & was lost in reverse culture shock, she held me…& handed me her tiny, beautiful baby boy to snuggle so I wouldn’t cry. His smile melted my heart (still does!) & his baby smell filled my mind with hope that I would again find my place on this side of the ocean. We laughed. We cried. We dreamed of going back to Japan someday so she could show me where she had lived so many years before. And she watched me fall in love with the man who would, someday, become my loving husband. Thinking of that season makes me smile…deep.
She was there for the birth of my older 4 children. In the room for 3 of them, in fact. She paced the hall as I labored. She cried when they put my babies on my belly for the first time. We kissed those sweet baby cheeks, smelled that amazing newborn breath & snuggled them all night long in the cold hospital rooms. She & my mom taught me about being a new mom & all the things that no one else will tell you about those early days. Thinking of those days makes me weepy but happy….deeply happy.
And then…it all changed.
“She can’t join us for Thanksgiving because she has the flu.”
“She can’t join us for Christmas because she has the flu, again.”
“They found something, but they don’t know what it is yet. I’ll let you know when she talks to her doctor.”
Not just any cancer. Pancreatic cancer.
Purple is for pancreatic cancer.
I had never known anyone who had pancreatic cancer, but I knew in my gut that it meant her time was short. I was afraid to research, but I somehow just knew. And it scared me more than I could express
How do you prepare to say goodbye to your first friend? How do you prepare to watch them suffer? How do you explain to small children that their beloved auntie was sick….& she wasn’t going to get better until Heaven?
2 years. That’s so much more than we thought we would have. We thought she would be gone before her next birthday, but she fought hard & lived every day to the fullest. We made new memories. We rebuilt our relationship where it had been weakened by life. We ate good food. We laughed & cried & giggled for hours just like we did as children. I went to chemo with her once & watched her losing hair before my eyes. We talked about the realities, fears & things we would miss about growing old together. (I promised I’d yell “You kids get off my lawn!” 2x…once for her & once for me! And we laughed until we cried because that would make me look even crazier! But I’ll do it…because she would love that.) Thinking about that final season makes hot tears stream down my cheeks…
Those words still sting. Somehow I thought they would never come…but they always do, don’t they?
Her cheeks were cold the last time I saw her beautiful face. She wasn’t there anymore & it was time to take my first steps on this earth without her there to cheer me on. I didn’t want to do that. Not ever.
It’s been a little over a year now. She never got to meet my youngest daughter who is her name sake. She would’ve loved her sassy little smile & happy countenance. My baby girl reminds me of her sometimes. She knows where she wants to go & she never lets anything get in her way.
Saying goodbye to my big sissy has changed me. I’m not sure I can explain it, but I know that I am not the same & I never will be the same again. I think about her every day. I sometimes wish I could call her & just hear her voice again. I’m forgetting what her voice sounded like. I can’t remember how she laughed. That is harder than I thought it would be.
I think she would be proud of how I’ve used the pain to grow. I think she would be happy that I found something to empower me to take control of my own health & to help others do the same.
People are starting to figure out what I’ve found to protect my body. I’m pretty sure some people don’t like it or approve, but I hope they will see that watching my sister walk this horrible path taught me that I couldn’t take any chances. I now have to live with, not only grief, but with the big red mark in my family medical history.
Red is for my health.
My gut health matters more than ever. My pancreas needs support. My immune system cannot be left to fend for itself. My gut bacteria have to be ready to stand & fight so stupid cancer doesn’t stand a chance in my body & my mind can stay sharp as I age. My kids need the same. They carry that red mark too. They have to be set up to live & not just roll the dice & hope for a long life.
Please, please don’t just write me off. Please don’t write off something that just might make ALL the difference.
What if this could change e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g.?
This is why I do what I do. Because I care. Because I want to live a long life. Because I want others to live long lives. Because I know that God made my body to fight so it can kick cancer’s butt without me even knowing about the battle! God knows the number of my days & I am thankful for that. But that does NOT mean I can sit idly by. I will stand. I will fight. I will share what I’ve learned & am learning. I will keep researching. I will keep learning. I will take care of my body. I will pray that others see the value & join me.
She would like that.
And someday, I will see her again. I will laugh with her & walk the streets of gold with her. I will sit at the feet of Jesus with her.
My sissy. My hero. Brandie.
My “why”…my sister.